Are Sexless Relationships Normal?

How do you deal with a lack of intimacy in a relationship?
on February 07, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Sexless relationships may not be widely spoken about, but lack of sexual intimacy in committed couples is becoming increasingly common. 

While some couples have made a conscious decision to distance themselves from sexual activity, other relationships deal with a reduced sex life later on in life — where one or neither individual is happy with this dynamic. 

So, what defines a sexless relationship? Commonly perceived as a union where sexual activity is rare or non-existent, these relationships are more than just the absence of physical intimacy. From the impact of stress and health issues to the nuanced differences in sexual desires, the reasons behind sexless relationships are as diverse as the relationships themselves.

Key Takeaways
  • A sexless relationship is typically one where couples engage in sexual activities less than 6 times a year. These relationships are not as rare as one might think, with studies showing significant percentages of both men and women reporting no sexual activity for extended periods.
  • In some cases, couples consciously choose a sexless relationship, often prioritizing emotional or intellectual intimacy over physical. In others, the lack of sex is a point of contention, where one or both partners are dissatisfied with the absence of sexual activity.
  • For those who mutually agree to it, a sexless relationship can foster other forms of intimacy, like emotional or intellectual, and can be just as fulfilling as relationships with sexual activity.
  • If the lack of sex is a problem, addressing it involves open communication about desires and needs, exploring new sexual experiences or therapy, and understanding the underlying causes of the lack of sexual activity.

What is a sexless relationship? 

Sexless relationships refer to committed or long-term relationships where there is no active sex life between the couple. A relationship is usually considered sexless if couples are having sex less than 6 times a year

There are many reasons behind a sexless marriage or relationship, with some couples simply preferring not to engage in sexual activity, whilst others have experienced a decline in the amount of sex in the relationship over the years — until it has stopped altogether. 

This lack of intimacy stems from a variety of factors, including a dwindling sex drive, lack of sexual desire, low libido, or even underlying sexual health issues. 

Research shows that sexless relationships are quite common, with 15.2% of males and 26.7% of females reporting past-year sexlessness while 8.7% of males and 17.5% of females reported no sex for 5 years or more. 

However, these trends were associated with older age and non-marital status and did not specify whether this lack of sexual intimacy was out of choice. 

Similar studies from 2018 also reported a decrease in sexual activity, with 1 in 3 men aged 18 to 24 years reporting no sexual activity in the past year. Once again, this study did not specify whether this lack of sex could be attributed to a choice of celibacy, or if these individuals were simply not in a sexual relationship during this time. 

When it comes to sexless relationships, you need to consider why there is a lack of sex in the first place — is it out of choice? Or do you still have the same sexual needs, but with no sexual satisfaction in your relationship — even though that’s not what you want? 

Can you be in a relationship without sex? 

While sexless relationships might sound odd to some people, they’re becoming increasingly common, as other factors replace physical intimacy in terms of importance for modern couples. 

Our recent research showed a renewed interest in non-sexual touch in committed relationships, with 64% expressing an interest in snuggling — compared to 41% who preferred penetrative sex. This was due to the greater interest in fostering a deeper emotional bond in their romantic relationship, with a decline in sexual intimacy as a result. 

If you consensually choose a sexless relationship, there is no reason why you can’t have a perfectly happy love life. Research shows that sexless Americans reported very similar happiness levels as their sexually active counterparts.

However, if one person in the relationship wants to engage in an active sex life, and the other partner doesn’t — that’s where it can start to affect the well-being of the relationship. 

What are the benefits of a sexless relationship? 

Sexless relationships can have many benefits for couples who do not have an interest in sexual activity and both agreed to refrain from this kind of contact. 

While physical intimacy is absent, it doesn’t mean that there is no intimacy in the relationship — far from it! Intimacy comes in many different forms, including emotional, intellectual, and experiential intimacy. 

By taking the physical element of intimacy out of the relationship, it allows couples to focus more on building their emotional connection. It does not mean that they will have a relationship that is any weaker than a sexual relationship, with a strong emotional bond of respect, trust, and validation paving the way for a happy life together. 

“In some relationships, one or both partners identify as Asexual or are in the process of exploring their Asexual identity. Asexuality is a broad term that encompasses various orientations, including Demisexual, Gray A, and Queerplatonic, among others,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired. 

“It's important to recognize that relationships and love go beyond just physical intimacy. A person who identifies as asexual may seek and desire intimate romantic relationships without engaging in sexual activities. However, it's also possible for them to occasionally engage in masturbation or experience sexual desires.”

It's crucial to understand that asexual identity, like all identities, is fluid and constantly evolving as individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and the language to express their feelings. Moreover, the way people define their asexual identity is highly individualistic, with each person having the autonomy to define it for themselves.

What if you don’t want a sexless relationship? 

Coping with the lack of sex in a relationship isn’t an easy task, as your self-esteem and confidence can take a beating — as the question of sexual attraction hangs in the air. 

Remember that you’re not alone, as many couples experience less sex as the relationship progresses, and this is completely normal. Lack of intimacy in a relationship (both physical and emotional) can slowly erode your connection, as when sex is out of the equation — couples can find it harder to retain that closeness. 

If this isn’t the kind of relationship that you want, and you’re starting to feel like more roommates or friends, it’s okay to admit that this bothers you. Even though it may be the last thing that you want to do, it’s important to communicate these needs to your partner!

Mismatched libidos or a low sex drive could mean that this decline doesn’t bother your partner, but they can’t just ignore your sexual needs altogether! Sexual frustration can lend a kind of underlying tension to these conversations, but it’s important to consider the reasons behind the lack of sex before you start to consider solutions. 

Causes of a sexless relationship 

  1. Erectile dysfunction: While ED is commonly associated with older men, research showed an ED prevalence of 8% among men aged 20–29 years and 11% among those aged 30–39 years. If your partner suffers from ED, this could also contribute to sexual performance anxiety — which may put them off sexual activity altogether. 

  2. Menopause: For women, research shows that perimenopause and menopause can contribute to a lower sex drive and difficulties with arousal. This decline in sexual desire can lead to a natural decline in physical intimacy in a relationship — eventually leading to a sexless relationship. 

  3. Low sex drive: As mentioned, low sex drive can be attributed to a number of factors, and is commonly associated with aging. While you may have been all over each other in your youth, this goes through a natural decline with age in many couples. 

  4. Mental health issues: If you’re suffering from depression, or with other mental health issues, it’s naturally going to impact your sexual wellness. 

  5. Stress: As you go through life changes, you may be experiencing additional stress. This can come in many forms, such as parental worries or pressures, work stress, or financial pressure. With all of this on your plate, it’s easier for sexual activity to decline in your relationship over time. 

  6. Relationship issues: A natural contributor to sexless relationships, is the health of the relationship itself. If you’re bickering all the time, sexual attraction naturally wanes, or if you’re recovering from an affair — you need to rebuild trust before embarking on a sexual journey as a couple.

How to reignite a sexless relationship 

  • Masturbation: Getting to know your own body, and discovering new modes of personal pleasure is a great place to start! Whether you want to experiment with solo sex toys or want to involve your partner in mutual masturbation — this can help open the conversation about what you want from a sexual relationship in a fun and exciting way. 

  • Trying new things: You’ve heard it all before, but never be afraid to spice things up! Whether that’s trying new sex positions, or dressing up in fancy lingerie, experimenting with your sex life can help you get out of a sex rut. 

  • Talk about your desires: It’s time to get talking! While it’s a tough topic to bring up with your partner, especially if you’re dealing with relationship issues — there is no healing without communication. To help you find the right words, use the Sex & Intimacy packs in the Paired app to test the waters!

  • Sex therapy: When you’re dealing with a sexless relationship, you don’t need to go through it all alone. While it’s helpful to lean on family members or trusted friends, reaching out to a sex therapist can give you the tools you need to work through these issues in your relationship.

How do you know when to leave a sexless relationship? 

If you’ve committed to reigniting sex in your relationship, and it hasn’t worked out — it may be time to consider your next steps. 

While it may not be for everyone, some couples opt for open relationships to satisfy their sexual needs and desires — remaining fully committed to each other emotionally. Remember, you should never agree to an open relationship just to make your partner happy. You should be completely comfortable with this arrangement, and retain open communication with your partner throughout. 

Or, if this isn’t something that you and your partner are willing to consider, it could be a sign to call time on the relationship. 

While it may seem silly to abandon a relationship due to a lack of sex, this is a very important intimacy factor for many couples. If you’ve decided that you can’t be happy in a relationship without sex — that’s okay! 

Lack of intimacy or sex can then be added to your list of non-negotiables or dealbreakers for future relationships, and you can take these learnings to your next partner. 

+50k reviews
Reignite intimacy in your relationship!
Download the #1 app for couples to guide you in the process.
our app
petal decoration

Enjoying this article?

A happier relationship starts here.

Question with locked answer